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Why Don’t Men Talk About Their Health? (Part I)

It’s no secret that I am absolutely nuts about men’s health. One way I spend my time is reading and summarizing different research studies about the topic. A lot of these studies look at disparities in men’s health, but I am interested in why they exist. 

I recently decided to ask my social media followers a simple question: “Why don’t men discuss their health?” I was amazed by all the different responses. Over my next several columns, I will share some of the responses shared and how we can fix them.

Response #1: Men don’t discuss their health because “women are told at their annual gynecologist appointment to check themselves, but men aren’t.”

I found this response to be very intriguing for two reasons. First, it implies that men attend an annual physical exam with a doctor but just aren’t given all the information they need. However, the first part of this statement isn’t exactly true.

In 2016, the Cleveland Clinic’s first MENtion It survey found that 40 percent of the men who participated in their survey self-reported that they choose not to attend their yearly physical. Two years later, the third edition of the MENtion It survey also discovered that 61 percent of surveyed men have neglected to visit a doctor even when they needed to go.

Let me be clear. I’m not wagging a mighty, disapproving finger at these men. Prior to my testicular cancer diagnosis in the fall of 2016, I hadn’t visited my primary care doctor for any reason whatsoever since summer 2014. Shame on me, indeed.

Regardless of what statistic (or my anecdotal evidence) you look at, it’s pretty clear that men don’t attend annual medical appointments as much as they should. However, once the men actually get themselves to the doctor, do discussions around preventative screening measures really occur?

From April to June 2018, I sought to answer that exact question.

I surveyed over 500 men to discover what really happens with testicular exams and discussions about self-exams at the doctor’s office. I’ve left the survey open since then and accumulated nearly 800 responses. Now the statistics indicate that only 43 percent had their testicles examined at their last physical (down from 51 percent originally), and 81 percent were not told how to do a self-exam (as opposed to 78 percent previously).

This is just one topic that should be discussed with men at an annual physical, but it’s evident that the important conversations aren’t taking place. This isn’t a slight against doctors either. I had an opportunity to interview Dr. Charles Modlin from the Cleveland Clinic, and he shared a doctor’s perspective on this matter.

“Medicine is changing and in a certain way that is actually putting more pressure on primary care providers to do more during their encounters with the patients in a shorter amount of time. They’re trying to manage the diabetes, the hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke prevention, weight management, behavioral health, the medications, and all that kind of stuff … in a 15-to-20-minute interaction that is allotted to them.”

How we can fix this problem

Simply put, we need to make it easy for men to remember to do their routine—monthly self-exams—and learn more about other male-specific topics.

Ken Lane, a fellow testicular cancer survivor, formulated a campaign called #Takea2nd4theBoys to help men be on the ball with remembering to do their self exams. The premise is simple. In Ken’s words, “You’re more likely to remember to check yourself if you have a reminder. Using this link, you can automatically add this as an event on your Google calendar.” You’ll get an automatic reminder (on the second of every month) to hop in the shower and give your ‘boys’ the time they deserve.

If you’re feeling even lazier or don’t have Google calendar, whip out your phone and text “@selfexam” to 81010. That will send a text message to your phone on the first of every month reminding you to do it, courtesy of the Testicular Cancer Society.

It’s really that easy. A click here, a keystroke there, and then you’ll be reminded everywhere!

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